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Archive for March, 2019

A Listener Reviews: Oz-9

Oz-9

Episodes: 12 Episodes so far.

Length: Generally around 10-20 minutes

I’ve listened to… All available episodes

The Premise: Greater Gated Galaxies (bad ears….) realizes they are about to be found out an lose a lot of money if their whole fleet is grounded. And they’ll definitely be grounded, because the ships are flying deathtraps that are lucky if they’re held together with chewing gum and duct tape. So, the best bet? Hurriedly staff the ships with crews of convicts, take a lot of rich peoples’ money, and load everyone on the ships in the hopes of stumbling across a habitable world at some point, maybe. We follow the crew of the Oz-9 as they struggle to survive the reaches of…space relatively close to earth, but definitely not still within jurisdictional range of anyone. They’ll make it out there among the stars eventually.

My Review: This is one of the few podcasts where I knew I was going to love it from episode one. Usually, it takes me a couple of episodes to warm up to an idea, and then I’m hooked. But this pulled me in incredibly quickly. The scenario is unabashedly ridiculous…but also cynical and greedy enough that I worry it may be clairvoyant. The crew of the Oz-9 are certainly caricatures, but endearing ones. As we learn about their sheer incompetence, it makes you want them to survive even more, because honestly, it seems cruel to kill people that are this hapless.

The plot is beginning to develop a bit more depth, and I certainly welcome it. The “crisis of the minute” style has been good at introducing everyone and everything, but now it’s beginning to build some more involved story arcs, and I cannot wait to see how it all unfolds. I’ll also be interested to see the humor in the show develops as the plot gets deeper. One of the things I most appreciate about this story is it’s ability to be goofy and “random” without falling into the “lolz penguin of doom” style. It does this by using call backs very well, playing on the same gag in unexpected ways. These gags have not become overused, but they’re only 12 episodes in, so let’s not give them too much credit. (I kid. Listen to the show. It’s perfectly on theme.)

Also, let me take a moment in this review to talk about a completely unrelated media property. Arrested Development. I have said on many occasions that if there were a way to remove my knowledge of a show so I can re-experience the sheer joy of a first watch through, I would use that on Arrested Development. For me, Oz-9 hits a lot of the same notes.  A cast of rather unfortunate, oblivious characters, good use of running gags, and a omniscient narrator providing commentary. Admittedly, this narrator has a bit more disdain for the crew and, frankly, the audience. But I probably deserve it.

Oz-9 is silly, senseless, unapologetic humor done really, really well. It doesn’t try to be something it’s not, and it thankfully does not take itself too seriously. It is just good fun to listen to.  I know I can tune in and just enjoy laugh as the crew of the Oz-9 struggle to survive…at least a week or so?

You can find them here: Oz-9

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A Listener Reviews: Palimpsest

Palimpsest

Episodes: 20 episodes total (10 episodes per season)

Length: Generally around 20 minutes

I’ve listened to… Both seasons

The Premise: Each season tells a different story. In season one, the narrator moves into a new home and starts to experience some strange things. In season 2, the narrator runs away from home and soon begins work caring for a unique charge in a house that shows off these “denizens” in a high end freak show of sorts. While one is modern day and the second is decidedly not, the share a lot in tone and both focus on supernatural stories.

My Review: Both seasons have been beautifully told stories. The title of Palimpsest refers to a work of some kind where the old has been written/drawn over, but the original remains visible. And the stories stay true to this, with both seasons telling overlapping stories. What has happened in the past has a distinct presence in the future, and characters end up telling two stories at once. I think this is a stronger theme in season 1, but definitely still comes through in season 2 in a more subtle way.

The style of this podcast tends to be a kind of somber, hopeful tone. In the present, it is earnest and optimistic, even in the face of difficulties, and this is woven with a sad nostalgia at times. With a single narrator in each, it manages to convey the different needs and personalities of many different people. The music used is also really well done, setting the scene and tone without becoming distracting.

I have found the seasons to be a little predictable at times, which is unfortunate but not unforgivable. The storytelling is done well enough that I’m happy to go along for the ride even if I’m pretty sure where we’re headed. I think once I made the connection about how the title is woven into the stories, it became easier to figure out the stories because the past and present are often overlapping in the audiodrama.

These are two reflective, intriguing, and emotional stories. There is action and intensity, but it is precede by the steadily building tension that the present in its current form is unsustainable, but the path forward looks impossible. For very different reasons in the two seasons, but still. I think season one is a great example of an unreliable narrator, which is probably one of my favorite approaches when done well. It keeps me guessing, and I like that. Even if I did figure a lot of it out before the podcast got there. It was still enjoyable listening to how they unraveled both stories.

Overall, while it does play on some familiar themes/tropes, the execution and presentation in this audiodrama is phenomenal. I was able to easily become invested in the characters, even when I thought they were making a bad move. It packs a lot of emotion into a single episode, steadily moving the story forward with an even pace. Ultimately, it was a joy to follow along with the story through all the twists and sometimes rather dark turns. I will be eagerly waiting for another season, and I can’t wait to see where they go next.

You can find them here: Palimpsest


A Listener Reviews: Station Blue

Station Blue

Episodes: 11 episodes in season 1

Length: Generally around 20-30 minutes, with some outliers on either end

I’ve listened to… All of Season 1, eagerly awaiting Season 2.

The Premise: Matthew is responsible for setting up a research station in Antarctica before the rest of the team arrives. Nothing bad has ever happened in an isolated Antarctic research station, right?

My Review: Isolation. Monsters. Memories. Penguins. Terror. What’s not to love? This is really the kind of horror I enjoy. It is psychological horror done very well, highlighting at once the freedom and madness inherent in such total isolation. The episodes do a great job of developing Matthew as a character through his job and duties, as well as through well placed flashbacks.

What I think this audiodrama does so well is utilize an unreliable narrator in a audio format very effectively. I listened to season 1. I’m not sure how much happened, how much was misinterpreted, and how much was completely impossible. That’s a hard feat to accomplish, because the story has at once convinced me that unimaginable things are possible, but also that this is still the real world and real world rules apply. So I’m still trying to reconcile those pieces.

The story also touches on mental illness in a very appropriate way. It balances well the severity and negative impact of such conditions with character strength, agency, and resilience. From the point of view of a therapist who sits across from people struggling with mental health concerns, it feels more realistic than most depictions. Mental illness can often be used as a crutch in creative fiction, but here it is one facet of a very complex, unique, and intriguing character.

At times I found it a little hard to follow because they relied on audio cues to help you follow, and I was just unable to place what was happening. The writing is usually kind enough to fill me in later, however, so I don’t have to stay befuddled for too long. The story also weaves a little between past and present, so it can be confusing when listening until the context is better developed. However, I think that actually serves to increase the uncertainty inherent in this story. It should be confusing at times, because the narrator is confused at times. I’d also say this story starts relatively slow, but makes up for it once it gets going. I was hooked after a handful of episodes because, even if everything seemed okay, you just know something else is going on. The ability to create that mystery and curiosity is really remarkable.

Overall, the story is well-crafted with a very interesting main character in a setting that has been used relatively frequently in horror literature (for it’s real world rarity and isolation), but manages to avoid some easy tropes. It oozes tension and dread, but often tricks me as the listener into feeling  maybe everything is really okay…? But it’s probably not. At least, I don’t think it is. Right?

You can find them here: Station Blue


A Listener Reviews: Moonbase Theta, Out

Moonbase Theta, Out

Episodes: 18 episodes

Length: 5-7 minutes

I’ve listened to… All there is so far!

The Premise: The crew of Moonbase Theta are preparing to return to Earth. Roger provides weekly updates to the corporate overlords leaders sponsoring the trip. However, communication starts to get spotty and things aren’t going according to plan.

My Review: This was a wonderful surprise of a podcast. I have seen a few audiodramas try to pull off very brief episodes, but this is the most successful application I have seen thus far. The format and structure of the episodes work really well, packing a lot of punch in the few minutes they put out each week. They also masterfully balance tension with what they say and, more importantly, what they don’t. What is unsaid is just as important in this story, and it is this fact which allows the story to delve so deep in just a few minutes.

Beyond having a refreshingly well-developed plot, there are some deeply emotional moments. It takes some very careful planning and creativity to build an intro, bit of intrigue, emotional punch, and outro within just a few minutes. I think it is a testament to the idea that sometimes restrictions lead to great creative leaps. The voice acting is also strong, leading you through the moments and carefully using tone of voice, rate of speech, and other verbal cues to help develop the full story. And they unashamedly keep the story relatively serious, not breaking the carefully crafted tension with jokes. But it is an engaging serious story being told.

The narrator is engaging and sympathetic. As someone who works within a large organization, I can feel the frustration when you don’t receive communication about things that seem vital for successful completion of your job. I mean, my leaders don’t have the excuse of being a whole moon away, but hey, I’m not bitter. That said, I definitely feel connected to Roger, the man running the communication updates. The glimpses of his life offered by the personal messages at the end serve to deepen the character in just a few lines.

As someone who enjoys writing, I am in awe of the creators ability to create such an amazing story in a very limited space. I’m wordy. It’s my flaw, and I own it. So seeing the impact of a few minutes/words is inspiring. In a thirty minute format, this story would still be good. The plot and idea is still intriguing. But the format adds a level of realism that makes the world feel more real. It also seems to highlight how limited and distant communication is, allowing me as the listener to feel just as isolated for those few minutes as Roger and the rest of the crew. I’m only going to get 5 minutes to hear the update. They only have 5 minutes to ask for help.

There is no excuse not to listen to Moonbase Theta, Out. Even if your queue is running behind, you will definitely be happy if you make a little time to catch up and keep up with this impressive, minimalist audiodrama.

You can find them here: Moonbase Theta, Out